Court hearing delayed again for Scottish gamekeeper accused of killing sparrowhawk on grouse moor

A court hearing has been delayed once again in the case of a Scottish gamekeeper accused of killing a sparrowhawk.

[Sparrowhawk photo by Markus Varesvuo]

The un-named 22-year-old gamekeeper was charged in September 2021 (see here) for the alleged killing on a grouse moor in Inverness-shire and he was due in court on 30th September 2022.

The case was delayed until 10th November 2022 (see here).

The case has now been further delayed and the next court hearing is scheduled for January 2023.

As this is a live case no comments will be accepted on this blog post until criminal proceedings have ended. Thanks for your understanding.

Scottish Land & Estates still refusing to acknowledge extent of raptor persecution on grouse moors

In the last blog post where I wrote about the nine shot birds of prey found wrapped in bags on Millden Estate and just over the estate boundary, I included a quote from Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates, who had written the following in a comment piece for The Field, published in August 2022:

Raptor persecution has been the stick with which grouse moors were beaten for two decades, but the past five years have seen a sea change. In Scotland, recorded crimes have effectively ceased on grouse moors, and raptors of all species have been increasing“.

I said I’d publish his outrageous comment piece in full, so here it is:

I really shouldn’t be surprised that The Field published this nonsense – that particular shooting industry rag has a track record of publishing patently inaccurate comment pieces (e.g. see here).

And I’m definitely not surprised that the author of this latest gibberish is Tim Baynes – his lengthy track record speaks for itself (for a small selection of the masses of examples see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

Needless to say, his latest claim that raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors has “effectively ceased” is demonstrably untrue. You’ve only got to read my last blog post to understand this. If that doesn’t convince you, have a look at the General Licence restrictions currently imposed on grouse moor estates after Police Scotland found ‘clear evidence of raptor persecution’ – Leadhills Estate (here), Lochan Estate (here), Leadhills Estate [again] (here), Invercauld Estate (here), and Moy Estate (here).

And if you still need convincing, have a read of the Scottish Government’s Environment Minister’s statement in 2020 when she announced that there could be no further delay to the introduction of a grouse moor licensing scheme because:

“…despite our many attempts to address this issue, every year birds of prey continue to be killed or disappear in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors“.

Perhaps Tim Baynes’ perpetual denial of the bleedin’ obvious explains why he is no longer employed as ‘Director of Moorland’ at Scottish Land & Estates:

Nine raptors found shot & dumped in bags outside gamekeeper’s houses on Millden Estate and at the nearby River Esk in the Angus Glens

News has emerged that a total of nine birds of prey (eight buzzards and a sparrowhawk) have been found shot dead and dumped in bags in the Angus Glens.

We already knew about three of those shot buzzards (see here and here). They were found in bags outside two gamekeeper’s residences during a joint Scottish SPCA/Police Scotland raid on Millden Estate in October 2019 as part of an investigation into the criminal activities of depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, who was convicted in May this year for vile animal abuse and received a custodial sentence in August 2022 (here).

Nobody was charged for the killing or possession of those three shot buzzards (although Police Scotland had identified a suspect, the Crown Office chose not to pursue a prosecution – see here) and the news about those three shot buzzards only emerged this year after I’d spent two and a half years asking Police Scotland for details. For unknown reasons, Police Scotland chose not to issue a public appeal for information about those three illegally-killed raptors.

I can now reveal that those three shot buzzards weren’t the only ones found dead in the Angus Glens that Police Scotland was keeping out of the news.

[An illegally shot buzzard. Not one of the ones found on Millden Estate]

Rumours have been circulating for a while that even more dead raptors had been found in connection to the raid on Millden Estate so last month I submitted another FoI to Police Scotland to request confirmation and this is the response I’ve just received:

So that’s a total of nine shot raptors, all found in bags. Note Police Scotland’s careful wording that the third bag containing six shot raptors was found at ‘a second location‘. I understand that this bag wasn’t found on Millden Estate but was discovered nearby on the bank of the River Esk, beyond the estate’s boundary.

This is a shocking story for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the number of dead raptors found shot and dumped in bags in this area of the Angus Glens, but secondly the decision of Police Scotland to keep quiet about them all for almost three years.

Whose interests are served by such silence? Not the public’s interest, that’s for sure, but the interests of the grouse-shooting industry, whose representatives are busily claiming that, “In Scotland, recorded [raptor persecution] crimes have effectively ceased on grouse moors” (Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates writing in the August 2022 edition of The Field – I’ll publish his outrageous opinion piece shortly).

It’s just not good enough from Police Scotland. And this isn’t an isolated case either. More on another case shortly….

Court hearing delayed for Scottish gamekeeper accused of killing sparrowhawk

A court hearing has been delayed in the case of a Scottish gamekeeper accused of killing a sparrowhawk.

The un-named 22-year-old gamekeeper was charged in September 2021 (see here) for the alleged killing in Inverness-shire and was due in court on 30th September 2022.

This case will now be heard on 10th November.

As this is a live case no comments will be accepted on this blog post until criminal proceedings have ended. Thanks for your understanding.

UPDATE 11th November 2022: Court hearing delayed again for Scottish gamekeeper accused of killing sparrowhawk on grouse moor (here)

Sparrowhawk shot and another suspected shot – Police & SSPCA investigate

Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA have launched an investigation after the confirmed shooting of a sparrowhawk and the suspected shooting of another, found in the same area of Renfrewshire in April, one week apart.

The following article is from the Daily Record (dated 15th July 2022):

Two birds of prey ‘shot dead’ in Renfrewshire as probe launched.

Animal welfare chiefs say they suspect that two birds of prey have been shot dead in the space of a week.

The Scottish SPCA is working with Police Scotland as they look into the incidents after a firearm was confirmed as being used in one of the Sparrowhawk’s death.

One bird had to be put to sleep, while another was found dying with suspicious injuries which the SSPCA believe may be linked. A bird initially thought to have been stunned was found on Lochwinnoch Golf Course, Renfrewshire, on April 5 but its injuries were unsurvivable.

An undercover Scottish SPCA special investigations unit inspector said: “It was initially thought that the bird had been stunned but upon examination at the Scottish SPCA National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fishcross, it was discovered that they had been shot.

This caused a catastrophic shoulder injury and sadly resulted in the bird having to be put to sleep.

Another member of the public also reported finding another sparrowhawk the week before, which was bleeding from the wing. Unfortunately, that bird died before help could be called for.

It is unknown if they had also been shot but it’s certainly very suspicious that two sparrowhawks with similar injuries were found in the same area only a week apart.

We are working closely with Police Scotland to establish the circumstances around the bird’s injuries due to the use of a firearm in the incident.

We would like to find out what happened to this sparrowhawk.

If anyone witnessed anything or has any information they feel may be relevant they can contact our confidential animal helpline on 03000 999 999 or Police Scotland on 101, quoting incident number KB01540722 of 5 April 2022.”

ENDS

Gloucestershire Police appeal for info after goshawk found shot in Forest of Dean

Press release from Gloucestershire Constabulary (13th June 2022)

Appeal for information after birds of prey are found dead in the Forest of Dean

Officers are appealing for information after two birds of prey were found dead in the Forest of Dean.

A Goshawk and Sparrowhawk were found next to a bus stop just south of Aylburton near Lydney on the A48 by a member of the public on Monday 25 April.

The male Goshawk was just under 17-years-old and X-rays show that the bird had been shot with a shotgun.

The cause of death has not yet been established for the male Sparrowhawk however post mortems will take place for both birds. 

[The shot goshawk. Photos via Gloucestershire Constabulary]

PC Cath McDay said: “This is an awful crime under the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981, to truly special birds

The Goshawk had managed to live to an exceptional age only for his life to be ended like this.”

Enquiries are ongoing and investigating officers are asking anyone with information on the incident to please get in contact.

Information can be submitted by completing the following form online and quoting incident number 130 of 25 April: https://www.gloucestershire.police.uk/tua/tell-us-about/cor/tell-us-about-existing-case-report/    

Alternatively, you can call 101 and quote the same incident number or speak to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

Photos released of shot sparrowhawk found glued to a stick & dumped in a ditch in Doncaster

Three days ago, South Yorkshire Police appealed for information after a sparrowhawk was shot dead, glued to a stick, wrapped inside a plastic bag and dumped in a drainage ditch (here).

The grisly discovery was made by a member of the public in the Thorne area of Doncaster, close to the canal, on Sunday 10th April.

Photos have now been released, including an x-ray showing the pellet embedded in the bird’s body:

Investigating officer PC Sarah Barrowcliffe of South Yorkshire Police said:

Sparrowhawks are a protected species and it is an offence to harm themThis was a shocking act of violence against a beautiful and defenceless bird, and officers are working hard to identify those responsible.

South Yorkshire Police is committed to the investigation of serious wildlife offences, including the killing of birds of prey.

Anyone with information please call South Yorkshire Police on Tel 101, quoting incident number #918 of April 11th 2022.

Sparrowhawk shot, glued to a stick & dumped inside plastic bag in Doncaster

South Yorkshire Police is appealing for information after a sparrowhawk was shot dead, glued to a stick, wrapped inside a plastic bag and dumped in a drainage ditch.

The grisly discovery was made by a member of the public in the Thorne area of Doncaster, close to the canal, on Sunday 10th April. The bird is believed to have been shot with a pellet gun.

[Sparrowhawk photo by Getty]

Investigating officer PC Sarah Barrowcliffe of South Yorkshire Police said:

Sparrowhawks are a protected species and it is an offence to harm them. This was a shocking act of violence against a beautiful and defenceless bird, and officers are working hard to identify those responsible.

South Yorkshire Police is committed to the investigation of serious wildlife offences, including the killing of birds of prey.

Anyone with information please call South Yorkshire Police on Tel 101, quoting incident number #918 of April 11th 2022.

UPDATE 30th May 2022: Photos released of shot sparrowhawk found glued to a stick and dumped in a ditch in Doncaster (here)

Two gamekeepers expelled from BASC after wildlife crime convictions

The British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC) has expelled two of its members following convictions for wildlife crimes.

The two expelled members are gamekeeper Hilton Prest from Cheshire who was convicted in December 2021 and gamekeeper Shane Leech from Suffolk who was convicted in November 2021.

Unusually, BASC posted an announcement about the expulsions on its website last week:

I say ‘unusually’ because although I’m aware of previous expulsions from game-shooting organisations following wildlife crime convictions, these are not common and when they do happen we tend to see vague statements sometime later, such as, ‘The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has expelled five members in recent years‘, but there’s rarely any evidence provided by which to authenticate the claim.

I’d argue that this rare open & transparent statement from BASC is as a result of long-term campaigning by conservationists to get the shooting organisations to back up their claims of having ‘zero tolerance of raptor persecution’. I also see it as a sign that the shooting organisations are feeling the increasing pressure imposed by campaigners, forcing the shooting industry to show Government policy-makers that it can self-regulate and thus avoid the inevitable enforced regulation that is hurtling towards them in the near distance, following on the heels of the forthcoming regulation in Scotland.

Good work, everybody, and especially to the multi-agency teams (Suffolk & Cheshire Police, RSPB Investigations, Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Crown Prosecution Service) that secured the convictions of these two gamekeepers after months of painstaking work.

Another gamekeeper convicted as another bird of prey starves to death in illegally-operated trap

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the conviction of a 53-year-old gamekeeper in the Scottish Borders, Peter Givens, who was responsible for an illegally-operated trap in which a barn owl and a goshawk had starved to death (see here). I’ll be blogging more about that case shortly as some interesting things have come to light.

Fast forward two weeks and today another gamekeeper, 58-year-old Hilton Prest, has been convicted for an almost identical offence, this time causing a sparrowhawk to starve to death inside an illegally-operated trap in Bosley, Cheshire, in February this year.

[The dead sparrowhawk inside the crow cage trap. Photo by RSPB]

The RSPB has published a press release about this latest conviction, which I’ll reproduce below, and then I’ll add some commentary at the end.

RSPB press release, 16th December 2021:

Man fined after sparrowhawk starves to death in trap

An amateur gamekeeper has received an £800 fine after a sparrowhawk starved to death in a trap in Cheshire.

At Manchester Magistrates’ court today (16 December 2021), Hilton Prest pleaded guilty to unlawfully using a trap on or before 10/2/21 contrary to Sec 5(1)(b) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He was fined £800 (plus £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge). A charge against a second man was discontinued. 

On 10 February 2021, a member of the public found a sparrowhawk alive in a cage trap on land managed for gamebird shooting near Bosley. Cage traps are large mesh traps designed so a bird can get in but not out. They can be used legally, under license, to control crows, and must be checked every 25 hours. Any non-target birds caught accidentally must be released unharmed during daily inspections. When not in use the doors on such traps must be removed or secured open so birds cannot be caught.

There was snow on the ground and no shelter or water for the bird. The door to the trap was closed, so the member of the public opened it slightly, hoping the sparrowhawk would escape. Concerned for the bird’s welfare, they later provided the trap’s location to the RSPB.

[The juvenile sparrowhawk caught inside the trap during freezing weather in Feb 2021. Photo by RSPB]

RSPB Investigators attended the following day, 17 February, however they found the sparrowhawk (later confirmed as the same bird) dead inside the trap. There were also the remains of a blackbird, which had presumably attracted the sparrowhawk inside, and some grain, which had presumably attracted the blackbird. Despite the door being ajar, it appeared the sparrowhawk had been unable to escape and starved to death.

Cheshire Police were notified and the body of the bird sent for post-mortem examination. A veterinary pathologist confirmed the bird had died of starvation and would have experienced considerable unnecessary suffering inside the trap. (The veterinary work was funded by money from Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensic Fund, provided to support such cases, and administered by the PAW Forensic Working Group.) Two men were later interviewed by the police and reported for offences in relation to the unlawful use of the trap. 

District Judge Mr Jack McGarver said that he accepted that the act was careless rather than reckless or intentional, but that the degree of carelessness was high, and that it was well below the standard that was expected.

He added: “The sparrowhawk is a beautiful native creature which is entitled to be protected.”

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “An unattended set trap in sub-zero temperatures was a death sentence for both birds.

If a trap is no longer in operation, it must be disabled in such a way that no bird can become caught. The operator has a duty of care to ensure that this happens, and that no birds can become caught inside. This duty of care was not met.

This is yet another example of why Natural England must improve the general license conditions for disabling these traps, in line with conditions in Scotland. We are aware of a number of other birds, including buzzards and a goshawk, that have starved to death inside cage traps which appear not to have been properly disabled. In this case, a simple padlock securing the door wide open would have saved the life of this blackbird and this sparrowhawk. This needs to be addressed to ensure no more birds perish in this sad and wasteful way.”

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, or a trap with a bird of prey caught inside, phone the police on 101, email RSPB Investigations at crime@rspb.org.uk or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx

ENDS

First of all, well done to the RSPB’s investigations team, working with Cheshire Police, to bring this case to court and secure a conviction.

The penalty given to gamekeeper Prest (£800 fine plus £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge) is higher than that given to gamekeeper Givens (£300 fine plus £20 victim surcharge) even though two Schedule 1 species had died as a result of Givens’ offence so once again sentencing consistency is lacking.

What’s really interesting though is the difference in the trapping rules between Scotland and England. In the Scottish case, it could be shown quite easily that Givens was operating an unlawful trap because (a) in Scotland the General Licence requires that the trap user be identified by a code attached to each trap (this is not a requirement in England because statutory agency Natural England hasn’t bothered to introduce it), and (b) in Scotland, when the trap is not in use the trap operator MUST do the following, as a condition of the General Licence:

Any trap not in use must be immobilised and rendered incapable of use. For multi-catch cage traps, the access doors must be removed from the site or securely padlocked open so that no bird can be confined‘.

This is a clear instruction – you either padlock the door open or you remove it completely if the trap is not in use. It’s unambiguous.

However, the equivalent General Licence condition in England is nowhere near as clear cut and can lead to all sorts of ‘accidents’ and excuses.

In England, the General Licence condition says this:

When you are not using a trap, it must not be capable of holding or catching animals.

You must secure trap doors in a fully open position, or remove the doors completely from the site‘.

Then there’s an add-on bit of ‘advice’ underneath, that says:

Padlocks are the most secure way to secure trap doors open, but cable ties or wire may also be suitable‘.

Crucially, this ‘advice’ is not legally binding, so a trap operator in England could legally use a rock or a piece of baler twine to ‘secure trap doors in a fully open position’ but both these techniques, and others, are not bomb proof and a door could ‘accidentally’ close, preventing a trapped bird from a means of escape. Padlocking the door or removing the door completely provides a trapped bird with a route to escape.

Quite why Natural England hasn’t incorporated this very simple but effective condition into its General Licence is a matter of bemusement for many of us. It’s really not that difficult, is it?

And if game-shooting organisations were as interested in protecting birds of prey as they claim to be, they’d be pushing for this very simple measure, too.

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